Thursday, January 14, 2016

Michael Williams on "OzLand"

What was your filmmaking background before making OzLand?

MICHAEL: I’ve been making films for a decade. I started in high school and continued through college and after. Until OzLand, I stuck with writing and directing more than 20 short films. During that time, I also worked in film as a camera assistant working my way up to being a director of photography. 

Where did the idea come from and what was the process for writing the script?

MICHAEL: The idea for OzLand came 4 or so years ago. I was watching a show on the History Channel. A commentator mentioned how someone without any frame of reference could read a fictional book and believe it is real. That is where the seed of the idea came.

I began thinking about “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and how that book could be explored in that context. For a couple of years, I played around with the idea and quickly developed the main premise about a man in a post-apocalyptic world who find a copy of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and believes it is gospel.

I didn’t actually write the script until 2013. Writing is the most difficult process for me. With OzLand, I had most of the story planned out in my head, however, it took me years to finally sit down and flesh it out into a script. To do that, I would read the book as if I was the character of Lief and write their journey around that. It was a pretty painless process once I finally got around to it!

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your distribution plan for recouping your costs?

MICHAEL: OzLand’s funding came from several sources. We received a grant from the Mississippi Film and Video Alliance to jump start the fundraising. I also used the proceeds from my previous short film’s premiere and merchandise sales.

To get the bulk of the budget, we did a very successful crowd funding campaign through Indie Gogo and personal donations. We also made extra funds for the film during production by selling OzLand merchandise.

Our film has been picked up for distribution by Indie Rights. We released for one week theatrically on October 16th, 2015 and nationwide on VOD October 20th, 2015. We hope that the income from that and international sales will help us make an even bigger and better film to follow up OzLand. 

How did you cast the movie and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?

MICHAEL: I wrote the film for two actor friends of mine. Glenn Payne’s role of Emri was written for him. The actor I originally had in mind for Lief had to back out, so I auditioned a handful of other great actors and landed on Zack Ratkovich. Both Glenn and Zack were the ideal actors for these parts, and I couldn’t be more pleased with their performances. 

The script for OzLand stayed fairly solid during production, however, the cast and I would collaborate to improve certain aspects of the film during production.

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

MICHAEL: We shot on the Canon 60D with prime lenses. It was the ideal choice for our film and the modest budget we had. It allowed for us to shoot fast and maintain easy setups. This was vital for shooting such an ambitious film on such a small budget and minimal time.

However, we pushed this camera to its limits. We got the best possible image out of the camera. While I am very pleased with the visuals we were able to achieve, I do look forward to using a better camera on the next feature.

However, the Canon 60D is why OzLand was possible, and we created some amazing images with it. 

How much did the story change in the editing process and why did you make the changes you did?

MICHAEL: The story didn’t change drastically in the edit. We trimmed a lot of fat from the film. The original cut was 125 minutes. The final cut was 105 minutes. We removed a few insignificant details and side stories and quickened the pace. However, nothing major was cut from the film even though we removed 20 minutes.  

You wore a lot of hats (Writer, Director, Editor, Production Design, DP, Producer). What's the upside and the downside to taking on all those roles?

MICHAEL: The upside of wearing so many hats was that it allowed us to do this film for such a small budget. I didn’t get paid for any of those jobs. That allowed me to spend our budget where it mattered.

The cast and crew were paid as much as I could afford to make it worthwhile for them, provide 3 great meals a day, and covered some gas expenses. We were also able to afford a trip to Kansas for portions of our film’s shoot, necessary props and resources, and not have to compromise our vision.

I love being involved in every process of making the film. Being able to do all of those jobs allows me to really make the film my own. However, the rest of the cast of the crew had input in all of those areas and really helped make it richer than it would’ve been otherwise. I surround myself with a team of cast and crew that I love and respect. We may not have had many people on set, but each of those people contributed to the film in more ways than just what their main job entailed. 

The downside is that sometimes I am spread a little thin. I think we found the perfect balance on OzLand. I may have done a lot of jobs, but I worked extra hard to make sure none of those was compromised. We didn’t compromise. We just worked harder.

I do look forward to wearing less hats on the next film, especially giving the logistical duties to other people. I’m more of a creative person, so I’d prefer to focus on that side of the film. 

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

MICHAEL: The smartest thing? Well we were extremely clever with our practical effects. I won’t give away the details, but we used just about every trick in the book to pull off the ambitious elements in our film.

I didn’t compromise my vision to adapt to what people assume you can pull off at our level of filmmaking. Instead, the team and I worked hard and creatively to do things we weren’t sure was possible. We proved ourselves wrong multiple times by pulling off things we thought we’d have to change, fix in post, or omit. 

The dumbest? I don’t know about that one. I’m sure I did a lot of dumb things, but we just pushed through them and accomplished the task regardless. 

And, finally, what did you learn from making this feature that you will take to other projects?

MICHAEL: I learned that my team and I really can pull of the ambitious things you wouldn’t expect  from a “no budget” film. It reaffirmed my belief in surrounding myself with a team that I love, trust, and respect. I hope to always surround myself with these people and others like them.

No matter the size of the film/budget, your best tool is having the right people to help you achieve your vision. 

1 comment:

michael williams said...

Thanks for the interview!!